Monday, March 26, 2012

A runcible spoon and a classic tribute to interspecies romance.

The aim of  National Poetry Month is to encourage people to enjoy poetry. Though the aim is noble, I think we sometimes, with the best of intentions, ‘kill off’ the very poetry we are tying to encourage people to love. All too often poems feel like codes that need to be cracked. I personally meet way too many poems that I don’t understand and therefore I don’t like. I believe a poem can say what it means and it is not the reader’s job to figure out what the poet is really saying. No wonder poetry doesn’t have a bigger audience. All that code cracking. Who has the time—or the desire? 
Having said that, I love meeting a word inside a poem that I do not know. I often fall in love with a word that I don’t know the meaning of, but I do know I love the word. For example. The Owl and the Pussycat is Edward Lear’s classic tribute to interspecies romance.  Two lovers elope in a pea-green boat and after a voyage of a year and a day, are married and dine “on mince, and slices of quince,/ Which they ate with a runcible spoon.” and they dance by the light of the moon.
Does it matter if you don’t know what exactly is a runcible spoon?  The definition of this term is a small fork with three prongs, one having a sharp edge, and curved like a spoon. However, I don’t believe that knowledge is critical to loving this whimsical poem.  Here is the poem to love and as an added bonus—you now know about runcible spoons.

The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
"O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are, you are, you are,
What a beautiful Pussy you are."
Pussy said to the Owl "You elegant fowl,
How charmingly sweet you sing.
O let us be married, too long we have tarried;
But what shall we do for a ring?"
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows,
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose, his nose, his nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.
"Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling your ring?"
 Said the Piggy, "I will"
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon.
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand.
They danced by the light of the moon, the moon, the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

In the end, poetry will appeal to people if they grow to love it. Lets help children fall in love with poetry!

Friday, March 16, 2012


Reading demands engagement  and is most definitely not a passive activity. A rendezvous with a book demands that you let  go of all distractions. Pico Iyer’s essay, The Joy Of  Quiet” of Quiet&st=cse is a plea for stillness. He says: “In barely one generation we’ve moved from exulting in the time-saving devices that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them — often in order to make more time. The more ways we have to connect, the more many of us seem desperate to unplug. Like teenagers, we appear to have gone from knowing nothing about the world to knowing too much all but overnight.” The average American spends at least eight and a half hours a day in front of a screen. The average American teenager sends or receives 75 text messages a day. Iyer’s article— urging us to slow down, to find time and space to think— brought to mind Ed Young’s 1990 Caldecott acceptance speech: “Take Time for "8 Matters of the Heart"

Take time for repose
it is the germ of creation

Take time to read
it is the foundation of wisdom

Take time to think
it is the source of strength

Take time to work
it is the path to patience and success

Take time to play
it is the secret of youth and constancy

Take time to be cheerful
it is the appreciation of life that brings happiness

Take time to share
it is in fellowship and sound relations
one finds meaning

Take time to rejoice
for joy is the music of the soul.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Talking Values with Elementary School Aged Children

Diane does a Webinar for PJ Library, Part of a series of "Talking Values with Elementary School Aged Children"
Click on Value Lesson Webinar. Scroll down to #6. The Art of Conversational Reading with Elementary Age Children, ages 6-8.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Distraction— a drawback of reading a book on a device.

A recent article in the NYT, “Finding your Book Interrupted…By the Tablet You Read It on.” calls attention to some of the drawbacks of reading on a device."Finding your Book Interrupted” speaks to the distracting nature of reading on a device. Children reading books they hold in their hands encourage then to acquire the habit of reading and help establish good reading and comprehension skills.
I watch children reading digitally and I see how multi-tasking and distraction are part of that experience. Offering children digitally interactive book brings up other issues as well.
I recently looked at the popular Alice and Wonderland digital book app and I found it difficult to get to the story— which took a back seat to the inter active nature of the app.
Offer children a book they hold in their hands with a great story they can get lost in –and let them use their own imagination to conjure up the sounds, sights and smells the story evokes. My worry is that children reading on digital devices are losing some of the essential qualities of reading—the ability to concentrate deeply, reflect and peruse meaning.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Cat in the Hat was a book that changed the way kids learned to read.

Theodor Seuss Geisel (3.2.11904), best known as Dr. Seuss is credited with “killing off” the Dick and Jane Books by creating the first I Can Read book in 1957. Here is the back-story to how The Cat in the Hat came to be written.  

In 1954 John Hersey wrote an article in Life Magazine “Why Do Children Bog Down on the First R?”  Hersey concluded that children bogged down on the First R because  “primers were bland, idealized and terribly literal, unable to hold youngsters attention.” This was the impetus for Dr. Seuss to write a book using only 223 words that children would easily recognize. The Cat in the Hat, 1629 words in length, with a vocabulary of only 223 words, was written to teach children how to read. The book launched the Beginning Books series, followed by the I Can Read Books.
The Cat In the Hat took Seuss 1½ years to write and in his own words: “ Writing The Cat in the Hat experience was like being lost with a witch in a tunnel of love- only job I ever tackled that I found more difficult was when I wrote the Baedeker that Eskimos use then they travel to Siam.”

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Don’t even think of allowing your child to leave childhood behind without experiencing the sheer delight of the Frances books.

Russell Hoban, author of more than fifty books for children, including some true classics of children’s literature, died December 13,2011. His book, A Bargain for Frances is one of  those books I will always remember, as much for the story line a for the conversation the book prompted. Badgers, Thelma and Frances are best friends and Thelma has a way of outsmarting Frances, and one day she tricks Frances into buying her old plastic tea set. When Thelma states “no backsides,” Frances comes up with a plan to teach her friend a lesson. Doing the right thing, fair, friendship, getting even, playing tricks on friends are just a few of the themes covered in the story. No preaching or sermonizing for Russell Hoban—he delivered a story that spoke to many of the ubiquitous dilemmas of childhood and friendship. Don’t even think of allowing your child to leave childhood behind without experiencing the sheer  delight of the Frances books.  A heads up, the story about two badgers and a tea set is NOT a book just for girls!